the world's premier FREE website for learners + teachers of English

Phrasal Verbs

Like many grammars, we treat phrasal verbs as one kind of multiword verb. Other grammars may class all multiword verbs as "phrasal verbs".

The structure of a phrasal verb is:

verb + adverb

Phrasal verbs can be:

Look at these examples of transitive and intransitive phrasal verbs:

  phrasal verb meaning example sentence
  direct object
transitive put off postpone We will have to put off the meeting.
turn down refuse They turned down my offer.
intransitive get up rise from bed I don't like to get up.  
break down cease to function He was late because his car broke down.  

Separable phrasal verbs

When phrasal verbs are transitive (that is, they have a direct object), we can usually separate the two parts. For example, "turn down" is a separable phrasal verb. We can say: "turn down my offer" or "turn my offer down". Look at these example sentences:

tick They turned down my offer.
tick They turned my offer down.

However, if the direct object is a pronoun, we have no choice. We must separate the phrasal verb and insert the pronoun between the two parts. Look at these examples with the separable phrasal verb "switch on". Note that the last one is impossible:

tick John switched on the radio.
tick John switched the radio on.
tick John switched it on.
cross John switched on it.
Separable or inseparable?
Many dictionaries tell you when a phrasal verb is separable. If a dictionary writes "look (something) up", you know that the phrasal verb "look up" is separable, and you can say "look something up" and "look up something". It's a good idea to write "sthg/sby" as appropriate in your vocabulary book when you learn a new phrasal verb, like this:
  • get up
  • break down
  • break sthg off
  • turn sthg/sby down

This tells you if the verb needs a direct object (and where to place it).

Test yourself with these fun phrasal verbs quizzes

Have fun with these phrasal verb matching games